Mark Story

Is Indiana ever going to get its basketball program fixed?

Romeo Langford talks about U of L sanctions, Calipari’s USA camp

Five-star basketball recruit Romeo Langford is being recruited by Kentucky, Duke, Louisville, Indiana, Kansas and North Carolina.
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Five-star basketball recruit Romeo Langford is being recruited by Kentucky, Duke, Louisville, Indiana, Kansas and North Carolina.

On Tuesday night, between the hours of 7 and 9 p.m., ESPN2 telecast the men’s basketball equivalent of a train derailment.

Ancient rivals Indiana and Purdue combined to produce one of the ugliest exhibitions of college hoops eyes have ever witnessed.

The host Hoosiers finished the game with more turnovers (17) than made field goals (15). The Boilermakers’ star, Carsen Edwards, took 24 shots — and made four.

Throughout the game, IU’s student section serenaded 7-foot-3 Purdue center Matt Haarms with an expletive-laced chant.

Putting a capper on the unsightliness, neither team reached 50 points in a game Purdue won 48-46 on a Haarms tip-in.

This is shaping up as yet another lost season of Indiana basketball.

After starting the season 12-2 with wins over Marquette, Louisville and Butler, Archie Miller’s Hoosiers (13-13, 4-11 Big Ten) have now lost 11 of their last 12.

One cannot help but wonder: Is Indiana ever going to re-assume its historic place among the elite of college hoops?

For a university with five NCAA championships and a pedigree that belongs with Kentucky, Kansas, North Carolina and Duke among college basketball’s elite, Indiana has produced a 25-year slog of profound mediocrity.

Already at 13 losses this season, the Hoosiers are assured their 20th year of double-digit defeats in the past 25.

In the 21st century, IU ranks fourth in its own state in NCAA Tournament appearances (11) behind Butler (13), Purdue and Notre Dame (12 each).

Indiana has now lost eight of its last nine meetings with archrival Purdue, too.

It is ceaselessly fascinating that a program with all the advantages IU should have cannot get this enduring cycle of ordinariness to end.

This current season has been an injury-filled disaster for Miller and Indiana.

Indiana’s offense is often uglier than a horned frog. The Hoosiers are shooting 46.1 percent from the field, 31.3 percent on three-point tries and 65.9 percent on foul shots.

IU has only two players, freshman star Romeo Langford (17.1 ppg) and senior forward Juwan Morgan (15.1 ppg), averaging in double figures.

Romeo Langford
Indiana freshman Romeo Langford (0) leads the Hoosiers in scoring at 17.1 ppg. Darron Cummings AP

What has always made IU’s slide perplexing is that, as a state, Indiana produces a robust amount of basketball talent.

In the past three recruiting classes alone, the state of Indiana has had a combined 19 players ranked in the Rivals 150. Unlike, say, Kentucky and Kansas, IU could be an elite program if it could just “control” recruiting in its own state.

When Miller was able to land Indiana folk hero Langford, the hope was getting the New Albany High School star to come to Bloomington would reestablish IU as the place to be for home-state stars.

Instead, the way what is expected to be a one-and-done year for Langford at Indiana has gone may be sending the opposite message. Speculation is building that Indiana high school star Keion Brooks may eschew the Hoosiers in favor of Kentucky.

Miller, 40, did impressive work in his prior stint as head man at Dayton, leading the Flyers to four NCAA Tournaments in six seasons. Included was a trip to the Elite Eight in 2014.

When Indiana tabbed the younger brother of Arizona Coach Sean Miller to replace the deposed Tom Crean, I thought it was a good hire.

Of course, when the Hoosiers lured Crean away from Marquette in 2008, I deemed that a good move, too.

Crean guided Indiana through three lean years (28-66) that followed the Kelvin Sampson-era NCAA probation.

Over the next six seasons, however, Crean led Indiana to a pair of Big Ten regular-season titles, three NCAA tourney rounds of 16 — beating Kentucky to get there in 2016 — and a 138-69 record.

Tyler Ulis vs Indiana 2016 NCAA tourney
Kentucky guard Tyler Ulis (3) stole the ball from Indiana center Thomas Bryant (31) during UK’s 73-67 loss to IU in the 2016 NCAA Tournament round of 32. Charles Bertram

Of Indiana’s five non-double-digit loss seasons in the past 25, Crean was responsible for three of them.

However, Crean did not get Indiana back to the Final Four. The IU fan base never seemed to forgive the coach for the 2013 NCAA Tournament round-of-16 upset loss to Syracuse when the Hoosiers, led by stars Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller, were a No. 1 seed.

Unless Miller (29-28 so far at Indiana) can somehow lead the 2018-19 Hoosiers on a late-season charge, one wonders how much goodwill he carries forward with Indiana backers.

At least from a distance, it does not look like it should be nearly as hard to win consistently at Indiana as it has continually been for the past 25 years now.


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Mark Story has worked in the Lexington Herald-Leader sports department since Aug. 27, 1990, and has been a Herald-Leader sports columnist since 2001. I have covered every Kentucky-Louisville football game since 1994, every UK-U of L basketball game but three since 1996-97 and every Kentucky Derby since 1994.